Omega 3 fatty acids round out our four building blocks of heart health, and they are just as vital as fiber, antioxidants and plant sterols.
Here are the basics.
Omega 3 fatty acids come in three different forms ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid), EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid). ALA is found in plants while EPA and DHA are found in fish.
Of the three, ALA, needed both for cellular function and optimal health, is considered an essential fatty acid because we cannot manufacture it inside our bodies. DHA and EPA are both considered healthful, but are not technically “essential” because they can be made inside our bodies from ALA.
Eating two servings of Step One Foods each day provides an average of 5 grams of ALA.
Although the exact way ALA works in our bodies is not known, several large clinical trials have documented its benefit to heart health.
- A study of more than 45,000 U.S. men over 14 years demonstrated that each 1 gram/day increase in dietary ALA intake was associated with a 16% reduction in the risk of heart disease. In those who ate little or no seafood, the relative effect was even greater: each 1 gram/day increase in dietary ALA intake was associated with a 47% reduction in the risk of heart disease.
- A study of more than 76,000 U.S. women over ten years found those with the highest ALA intakes ( approximately 1.4 grams/day) had a 45% lower risk of fatal heart events than women with the lowest intakes ( approximately 0.7 grams/day).
Interestingly, ALA appears to have little effect on total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, or triglyceride levels. Rather, several controlled clinical trials have found that increasing ALA intake decreased serum concentrations of C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is strongly associated with the risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke.
Step One Foods products are a great source of ALA, and here are some other foods that are rich in ALA:
- Ground Flaxseed, 1 Tbps delivers 1.6 grams
- Flaxseed oil, 1 Tbsp delivers 7.3 grams
- Walnuts, 1 oz. delivers 2.6 grams
- Walnut oil, 1 Tbsp delivers 1.4 grams
- Canola oil, 1 Tbsp delivers 1.3 grams
- Firm tofu, 1/2 cup delivers .7 grams
- Mozaffarian D, Ascherio A, Hu FB, et al. Interplay between different polyunsaturated fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease in men. Circulation. 2005;111(2):157-164 (PubMed)
- Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Manson JE, et al. Dietary intake of alpha-linolenic acid and risk of fatal ischemic heart disease among women. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;69(5):890-897. (PubMed)
- Wendland E, Farmer A, Glasziou P, Neil A. Effect of alpha linolenic acid on cardiovascular risk markers: a systematic review. Heart. 2006;92(2):166-169. (PubMed)
- Bemelmans WJ, Lefrandt JD, Feskens EJ, et al. Increased alpha-linolenic acid intake lowers C-reactive protein, but has no effect on markers of atherosclerosis. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2004;58(7):1083-1089. (PubMed)
- Rallidis LS, Paschos G, Liakos GK, Velissaridou AH, Anastasiadis G, Zampelas A. Dietary alpha-linolenic acid decreases C-reactive protein, serum amyloid A and interleukin-6 in dyslipidaemic patients. Atherosclerosis. 2003;167(2):237-242. (PubMed)
- Zhao G, Etherton TD, Martin KR, West SG, Gillies PJ, Kris-Etherton PM. Dietary alpha-linolenic acid reduces inflammatory and lipid cardiovascular risk factors in hypercholesterolemic men and women. J Nutr. 2004;134(11):2991-2997. (PubMed)